The big advances for marijuana reform still tend to come during election years when initiatives are put on the ballot, but there are already some promising signs for possible legislative victories in 2013. Across the country several marijuana reform bills have been introduced in the state legislatures that either stand a decent chance of becoming law this year or will at least significantly advance the issue of reform. Hopefully, the fact the voters in Colorado and Washington State recently came out so strongly for full legalization will convince politicians across the country that the electorate wants change.
Here is my list of the eight possible marijuana reforms in 2013 that look most promising. It is obviously still early in the year so other actions can still potentially emerge.
1) New Hampshire, medical marijuana – Medical marijuana was almost approved in New Hampshire last year but only failed because the bill was vetoed by then Governor John Lynch (D). Lynch has since retired and been replaced by Governor Margaret Hassan (D). Hassan is a supporter of medical marijuana and voted for it when she was serving in the state legislature.
2) Vermont, marijuana decriminalization – Governor Peter Shulmin (D) considers marijuana decriminalization a real priority for this legislative session and already bills have been introduced in the legislature. The legislature in Vermont is also controlled by Democrats so that chances are good something will be approved.
3) New York, decriminalizing marijuana in “public view” – Minor possession of marijuana in New York is already decriminalized as long as it is not in “open view.” This legal technicality is being exploited in a devastating way in New York City. In primarily low minority neighborhoods the police are using a stop and frisk tactic. They basically forcing random people to empty their pockets and then arrest them for having the marijuana in public view. The issue has received serious media attention and during his State of the State address Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) called decriminalizing the public view of 15 grams or less of marijuana a priority for 2013.
4) Illinois, medical marijuana – In the past the Illinois State House has come close to approving a medical marijuana bill but it ended up just a few votes short. In the 2012 election, though, Democrats made significant gains in the state legislature. Given that Democrats tend to be more supportive of marijuana reform, the election should have improved the chances of action this year. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) has previously said he would consider signing a medical marijuana law.
5) Washington State, vacating old marijuana convictions – It is idiotic and unfair for people to be burdened with a criminal record for something that is no longer even a crime. That why the bipartisan HB 1661 has recently been introduced in Washington State. It would allow people who were previously convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession to have their record vacated. Hopefully, the fact that the people of the state overwhelming voted to legalize marijuana will encourage the legislature to act.
Even if it is not approved this session, it is important for support to start building around this issue as marijuana legalization continues to spread. The slow process of ending marijuana prohibition won’t be completed until the needless suffering it caused is also fixed as best it can be.
6) Kentucky, industrial hemp – One of the most absurd parts of the United State’s marijuana prohibition is that industrial hemp has been caught up in it. While the industrial hemp plant are technically related to marijuana it is only in the way that a Pomeranian is technically related to a grey wolf. Industrial hemp can’t get people high.
There is an effort underway to fix this problem to allow farmers to grow industrial hemp, which is an agricultural product with a variety of uses. Kentucky’s two senators, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) and Rand Paul (R), are both pushing to allow local farmers to grow hemp. The recent backing of McConnell is very important. He is not only the unofficial leader of the GOP in Kentucky, but one of the most politically powerful people in Washington.
7) Hawaii, marijuana legalization – A bill was recently introduced in the Hawaii State House that would legalize marijuana. Even though the bill is probably not going to pass this year, what makes this effort significant is that the bill is sponsored by House Speaker Joe Souki (D), who holds the most powerful position in the chamber.
This will be an interesting test of how much support legalization currently has in the Hawaii state legislature and should help build support for reform going forward. Hawaii was the first state legislature to approve medical marijuana and it is possible that in a few years it might be the first state legislature to legalize marijuana.
8) Rhode Island, marijuana legalization – State Rep. Edith Ajello (D) introduced a bill to legalize marijuana for adults. While it is unlikely to be approved this year, the Rhode Island had recently adopted several marijuana reforms including both a marijuana decriminalization bill and a medical marijuana dispensary bill last year. This bill should test to see how much the recent election has changed the politics around the issue and help build support moving forward.
Long term, Rhode Island will be one the top targets for getting legalization approved through the state legislature. It is a very liberal state but doesn’t allow for ballot initiatives.
Image by medcannaman under Creative Commons license